Alessandro Del Piero

Alessandro Del Piero not coming to MLS, signs with Sydney FC


Juventus icon Alessandro Del Piero will unsettle the hearts of many North American Serie A fans with the news his next stop will be down under. While rumors in this quadrant of the world had sparked their anticipation – linking the 37-year-old with moves to New York, Montreal, and Los Angeles – del Piero has instead signed a two-year, $4 million deal with Sydney FC.

Announcing the move on their club web site, Sydney FC labeled the signing a “major coup” and “a historic day for football in this country.”

“Alessandro Del Piero is a global icon of the game and we are honoured he has chosen Sydney FC, ahead of many other options, as the club where he will begin the next chapter of his illustrious football career.”

Del Piero, speaking to press in Turin, echoed some of the sentiments we heard from Didier Drogba as the Ivorian moved to China – new worlds, new adventures and whatnot:

“This is a very big moment for me because I want to continue my career in a new part of the world where I can make a major contribution and help grow the game I love. The most important thing for me has always been the football and I want to help Sydney FC be successful.

“This is an exciting journey for me and I look forward to joining my new team mates in Sydney shortly.”

Del Piero’s move to Australia is a miss for Major League Soccer, but it’s hard to point the finger at any organization and ask “why didn’t you sign him?” The closest is Montreal, who have a small Italian enclave in Quebec, some money, and some flexibility within their roster. Still, it’s hard to fault a team for not paying over $2 million per season to a soon-to-be 38-year-old, especially when their other older Italian import (Alessandro Nesta) is playing for much less.

If Montreal stopped, pulled away from the “coup” of signing del Piero and asked “how can we put this money to better use,” the signing quickly loses some of its luster.

As for New York and Los Angeles, it would be difficult to justify moving any non-Rafa Marquez designated player to make room for del Piero. Each team is already maxed out on designated players. New York has Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill in addition to the immovable Marquez, and while there is (still) some speculation that Robbie Keane or Landon Donovan could leave Los Angeles for England, it’s not worth entertaining that to bring in del Piero.

But as much as roster rules, this decision seems to have come down to money. Alessandro Del Piero got an attractive offer in a very nice place to play. Whereas once Major League Soccer would have been the logical destination for somebody with his profile, now leagues like Australia’s and China’s are offering competition beyond a Middle East payday. For players like Del Piero, it’s not only a question for whether Major League Soccer wants them, it’s a matter of whether they’re willing to forgo some “newer” money to play in North America.

Back to Australia: Sydney opens their A-League season on Oct. 5 in New Zealand against Wellington Phoenix. Last year, Wellington finished one place above Sydney in the regular season (fourth). If he played, we should get some immediate (if vague) idea on how much del Piero will impact Sydney’s fortunes.

A quick glance at the A-League, and it looks like Major League Soccer circa 2002. The league will play with 10 teams this season, having drawn an average of 10,496 people to matches last year (ranging from Melbourne’s 19,208 to 3,170 for now-defunct Gold Coast). Six teams make the playoffs, with the regular season’s top-two finishers byed into the semifinals.

Australia also has a salary structure similar to Major League Soccer’s – a low salary cap for core players ($2.5 million for the upcoming season), though clubs are allowed to sign a domestic, international and junior (U-23) “Marquee” player whose salary does not count against the cap.

Del Piero fills Sydney’s International Marquee slot, becoming by far the highest profile player to join the A-League. Other International Marquee players include Adaleide United’s Sergio van Dijk (Netherlands, perhaps Indonesia), Brisbane Roar’s Thomas Broich (Germany), Melbourne Heart’s former D.C. United star Fred (Brazil), Melbourne Victory’s Marcos Flores (Argentina), and Perth Glory’s Shane Smeltz (New Zealand).

Before Del Piero signed, Smeltz was the only marquee player who had been capped at the senior level for his country, having earned 43 appearances with New Zealand. Del Piero appeared 91 times for Italy, winning the 2006 World Cup.

Even with that resumé, it’s difficult to say whether this signing will spark broader interest in A-League soccer. The league’s matches were on FOX Soccer last year, but the differences in time zones made watching the matches prohibitive for fans in the United States.

Today, however, even before deciding to write this post, I looked up start times for A-League matches, knowing they now have one player I want to watch. Sydney’s first match of the season will kick off at 11:30 p.m. Pacific on a Friday. I should be able to manage that.

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

Leave a comment

While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Montiel to Palace or West Ham, Coutinho to depart Barcelona

Getty Images
Leave a comment

River Plate is one of many clubs that could use this coming transfer window to earn a payday after taking losses in the coronavirus shutdown, and that could come at the benefit of one Premier League club.

West Ham is apparently one of a few teams after Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel who could fetch River Plate somewhere in the vicinity of $24 million. The right-back is a River Plate youth product who established himself as a regular for the club at just 20 years old and has spent the last three seasons earning significant minutes. Now 23, Montiel is a strong passer who can create for teammates with long-range deliveries.

Argentine publication Ole mentions that Spanish side Valencia has shown interest of late, but also states that West Ham made contact in January but was turned down by River Plate and the Hammers could be suitors again once the next window arrives. Montiel was also linked with Crystal Palace by Goal back in late March, while Argentine newspaper El Intransigente linked the player with Southampton. Palace and Saints both make sense as they are both looking to replace big-name departures of late, with Crystal Palace still yet to truly replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka while Southampton has not seen much from those brought in to take over for Cedric Soares.

Barcelona is reportedly ready to lower its asking price on Philippe Coutinho, with a bid of $86 million potentially workable for the Catalan club, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

Coutinho was extremely poor in his season-and-a-half at Barcelona, and while the Brazilian playmaker had upped his game on loan at Bayern Munich before the coronavirus shutdown, the purchase price on his loan deal is a whopping $130 million, which Bayern Munich is not willing to pay.

Barcelona is desperately in need of funds to support its summer business, with Lautaro Martinez and Neymar both heavily linked with the La Liga giants. It’s highly unlikely that both will be possible to acquire given both the team’s business of late and the coronavirus shutdown causing financial strain on clubs all over the world, and a significant sale may even be needed to get one of them over the line. Coutinho provides such a possibility, but with Barcelona not exactly in a position of strength given Coutinho’s lack of recent star power and the club’s need to sell, dropping the asking price is a highly likely eventuality.

The Evening Standard report mentions that Barcelona believes the Premier League is the “most likely possibility” for a Coutinho suitor given the league’s memories of his incredible spell at Liverpool just a few years ago.

Speaking of the Premier League, Manchester United was reportedly close to securing a marquee striker last summer before eventually sticking with Marcus Rashford up front. Speaking to Italian print publication Tuttosport on Wednesday, Romelu Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said that the Belgian big man almost went to Juventus on a swap deal before Manchester United backed out of the transfer negotiations due to Dybala’s high wage demand. Eventually, Lukaku departed for Inter Milan where he settled in quickly and has contributed to a furious title challenge that just lost steam before the coronavirus shutdown.

Pastorello simply responded “It’s true” when asked if Dybala had been a focal point of Manchester United negotiations, but hedged his answer with, “Romelu, however, had always hoped to go to Inter because he was impressed by the affection of the Inter fans.”